Halloween…Or Confessions of a Scaredy Cat

I’m an unmitigated scaredy cat when it comes to horror movies and not ashamed to admit it–blame it on a neurotic, overly dramatic, “waiting for the apocalypse” mother and my own active imagination.  No doubt many of my friends have hunkered down in front of their television sets with pizzas and big bowls of popcorn for a Halloween fright fest, binge watching horror flick after horror flick this weekend–savoring every blood curdling scream, dismembered body part, and demonic possession.  I, on the other hand, am crafting cocktails, baking bundt cakes and assembling Halloween treats (see recipes below) while watching Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)–low on the horror, high on kitsch.  Okay, true Austenites might be truly horrified by the mash-up but I find it oddly entertaining… given my love of Austen’s novel, quirky zombie films, and Doctor Who (11th Doctor Matt Smith plays everyone’s favorite buffoon Mr. Collins).

The image of butt-kicking zombie assassin Bennet sisters had me from the get-go.

Suffice it to say I don’t do the standard scary horror movie, like Saw (2004) or The Exorcist (1973), not so much because I’m squeamish about blood and gore or extreme violence (which I’m not given the number of Quentin Tarantino films I’ve seen), but because they dredge up my own fears about the pitch black ugly side of the human psyche.  All you have to do is watch the news and you’re reminded there really are seriously deranged individuals out there committing unspeakable acts against humanity.

While we’re on the subject of scary movie themes, paranormal ghost stories are also not high on my watch list either…because, yes, I do believe in ghosts.  I made the mistake of watching The Others (2001) on a cold dark night by myself (hey I got sucked into the story before I realized it was a “horror flick”) and nearly jumped out of my skin when my roommate came into the apartment.  I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen the film, but it scared the crap out of me.  I think I made myself watch some stupid sitcoms for an hour and eat dessert afterwards just to settle my nerves!

They say screaming is cathartic, but I prefer to laugh…much less stressful.  For those of you like me, who like their gore peppered (intentional or not) with humor, here are a few movies to check out this Halloween night:

The Lost Boys (1987) – I have fond memories of this 80’s teenage comedy horror flick starring the ubiquitous two Corey’s (Feldman and Haim), set in my college town of Santa Cruz.  Before he became known as uber operative Jack Bauer in 24, Kiefer Sutherland play one menacing vampire gang leader.

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An American Werewolf in London (1981) – The original is still the best.  I watched this with friends when I was at university in England.  Having traverse all through London on the tube, we laughed and screamed with horror at the werewolf mauling scene inside the Green Park tube station.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) –  George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play fugitive bank robbers turned would-be vampire killers.  It’s a delirious, campy adrenaline rush.  Clooney is a eye-candy dish full of sexy snarkiness.

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Shaun of the Dead (2004) – Leave to Brits Simon Peg and Nick Frost to make a fun zombie movie.  Dawn of the Dead this ain’t!

Less I forget, here are the recipes I’ve been working on while watching my non-scary Halloween movie.

Cocktail:  

I know I could’ve given it a more Halloween-y name but Fall Breeze is a more apt description of this effervescent drink.  It’s got all the flavors of fall with a spicy kick that perks you up like a crisp breeze.

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  • 2 oz. Bourbon Whiskey
  • 1 oz. Apple Cider
  • .75 oz. Fresh Ginger Syrup*
  • .5 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 5 dashes Persimmon Bitters
  • Chilled Seltzer Water
  • Fresh Sage and Sliced Fuyu Persimmon for Garnish

Combine the bourbon whiskey, cider, ginger syrup, lemon juice and bitters in a cocktail shaker.  Add 4-5 ice cubes and shake vigorously to blend.  Strain the liquor into a chilled martini glass and top with seltzer.  Garnish drink with a slice of persimmon and a small sprig of fresh sage.

Fresh Ginger Syrup:

Place 1 1/2 cups peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger root and the zest of a lime and a lemon into a medium saucepan and cover with 3 cups cold water.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 mins.  Turn off the heat, cover, and let the mixture steep for about an hour.   Strain out the ginger and pour the strained liquid back into a saucepan.  Whisk in 3 cups sugar and the juice of the lime and lemon.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then pour it through a fine mesh strainer.  Cool to room temperature, transfer into mason jars or glass bottles and refrigerate.  This recipe makes enough syrup for many drinks!

Dessert:

Pumpkin bundt cake is a homey staple on Halloween, especially when it’s decorated to look like an actual pumpkin.  Alas, I went a different route with mine…mainly because it was a belated birthday cake for my favorite aunt and she’s not crazy about big frosting laden cakes.  Her cake was not overly sweet or heavily spiced–simply moist and flavorful, with a dulce de leche cream cheese filing and bittersweet chocolate ganache glaze, tastefully decorated with tiny strips of dried mandarin orange.

Chocolate Glazed Pumpkin Bundt with Dulce de Leche Filling

Batter:

  • 1 1/2 cups Golden Brown Sugar
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Oil (Canola, Sunflower, etc.)
  • 4 oz. Butter (1 stick), cooked to a nutty brown and cooled to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Buttermilk
  • 1 1/4 cups Pumpkin Puree
  • 2 Tbsp. Bourbon
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp. Maple Extract
  • 2 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 3/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. Ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. Cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. Nutmeg

Whisk together the sugar and all the wet ingredients.  Sift the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and center a well in the center. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and whisk everything together until well incorporated.

Filling: 

  • 6 oz. Cream Cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Dulce de Leche
  • 1 Tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Pinch of Sea or Kosher Salt

Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

  • 18 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate (60-70%), finely chopped
  • 2 cups. Heavy Cream
  • 3 Tbsp. Light Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Espresso Powder (or Instant Coffee)
  • 1/4 cup Sour Cream
  • 2 Tbsp. Rum, Whiskey or Brandy (optional)

Place the chopped chocolate in a mixing bowl.  Combine the cream and corn syrup in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt and espresso powder.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, wait about 2 mins., then gently whisk the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate has completely melted.  Whisk in the sour cream and liquor.

To glaze the bundt, set the wire rack with the cooled bundt over a sheet of parchment and ladle the warm glaze over the top.

There was, of course, still plenty of ganache leftover from glazing the bundt…so I decided to use it for my next Halloween treat–Chocolate Peanut Butter Pumpkins.  I’ve wanted to make something with this pumpkin-shaped silicon candy mold I bought on sale last year and these were the perfect treats to make.  There’s no baking involved!  I simply filled the molds with a white chocolate peanut butter truffle, topped them with a thin layer of ganache and sprinkled on some crushed salted pretzels and leftover peanut butter toffee I’d whipped up for a batch of cookie dough I’d made earlier in the week.  You can substitute any kind of crushed toffee-like candy (e.g Butterfinger, Heath, etc.).   I placed the mold into the freezer to set up, then popped the little pumpkins out.

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle

  • 1 cup Chunky Peanut Butter
  • 10 oz. White Chocolate Chips (I like Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

Place everything in a heatproof bowl (starting with the peanut butter).  Set the bowl over a pot of simmer water and stirring occasionally until the white chocolate is completely melted and fully incorporated into the peanut butter.

Keep these treats refrigerated until ready to serve.

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Happy Halloween!

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Antidote for Weekday Supper Madness

Even for those of us in the food industry who spend the greater part of our lives cooking or baking professionally, when it comes to supper we’re often at a lost just like everyone else.  It’s very easy living in a foodie city to succumb to the urge to simply eat out or pick up some takeout on the way home from work.  I have at least four neighborhood restaurants on speed dial, and ever since I got a car with built-in bluetooth technology it’s even easier for me to call in an order on the drive home.  But this is a very expensive habit, one which I have recently tried to curb–both for the sake of my pocketbook and for my waistline.

I’ve found the best way to do this is to spend a little time on the weekend stocking up on some essential meal components so I can pull together something satisfying and (hopefully) nutritious when I get home from work.  I don’t always know what I’ll want to eat during the week, but if I’ve got a few staples stashed in freezer and a couple of ready-made dishes in the frig,  I’m less likely to get lazy and resort to takeout.  For example, I always try to make a big batch of pizza dough every couple of weeks so I’ll have a few dough balls in the freezer.  I pull one to thaw in the frig when I leave for work in the morning so it’s ready to use that evening.  Fire up the oven to 495°F, stretch out the dough on a well-oiled (olive oil, that is) sheet pan, top with it whatever you have in the frig or pantry, pop it in the oven for 10-12 mins…and voilà, dinner is served!

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Another one of my favorites is chicken wings.  Okay, they’re not quite as healthy as say chicken breasts, but they are extremely quick and easy to make, inexpensive, versatile, and leftovers make for a perfect next day lunch.  I never get bored with them because there are endless possibilities when it comes to marinades–tequila lime, sweet and spicy Korean chili, citrus soy, five-spice, bbq, and my current obsession, a Filipino-style marinade inspired by lechon manok.  I found recipe a few months ago for the deliciously savory Filipino classic whole roast chicken and made it several times.  The method was pretty simple.  Take a whole chicken, remove the backbone, then marinate it for a few hours in a fragrant mixture of ginger, garlic, black pepper, brown sugar, fish sauce, lemongrass, shallots (or minced red onion) lime or calamansi juice, rice wine vinegar, turmeric and bay leave.  Fire up the oven to 450°F then tuck the bird into a big cast iron skillet and pop it in the oven for about 40 mins., then turn off the oven and leave the bird in there for another 20 mins.  For the chicken wings, I like to lop off and discard the wing tips, then detach the drumette from the wingette at the joint and marinade the parts for at least 3 hours or overnight.  To save time, you can throw everything in a ziploc bag the night before, then when you’re ready to cook them off set the marinated wings on a rack to drain off the excess liquid while the oven is preheating.  Since the wings cook much faster than a whole chicken, I put the cast iron skillet in the oven while it’s heating up so that it’ll be sizzling hot when I put the wings in.  The wings cook for about 20 mins. at 450°F, then I turn off the oven and turn on the broiler for 5 mins. to caramelize the surface of the wings.   You can cook a pot of rice in the time it takes to roast the chicken wings.  Stir fry some greens and you’ve got yourself a nice little supper in less than 30 mins.

Filipino-Style Marinated Chicken Wings

  • 10 chicken wings, split
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. grated peeled ginger root
  • 1 Tbsp. minced shallot or red onion
  • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped lemongrass (or lemongrass paste)
  • 3 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • juice of one lime or calamansi (about 1 Tbsp.)
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 bay leaves

Puree in a blender the garlic, ginger, shallot, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime/calamansi juice, rice wine vinegar, black pepper, brown sugar and salt.  Place the chicken wings and crushed bay leaves in a large ziploc bag and pour the marinade over them.  Seal the bag and massage the marinade into the wings to evenly distribute.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.  Drain off the excess marinade and let the wings come up to room temperature while the oven and cast iron skillet is heating.  Cook the wings at 450°F for about 20 mins., then turn off the oven and turn on the broiler for 5 mins.

Now if you want to throw together a even speedier weekday supper, try cooking up a batch of rich meaty Turkey Bolognese over the weekend and stash a few pints in the freezer.

The main ingredients
The main ingredients

I pull a pint to thaw overnight in the frig, then heat it up and toss in some cooked pasta and grated Parmesan or Pecorino for a satisfying no-fuss meal…complete with a nice glass of red wine.

Turkey Bolognese

  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, finely diced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 5 small ripe tomatoes, chopped  or 1 large can plum tomatoes
  • 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dry oregano)
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 large sprig of basil
  • salt/pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Whether you’re cooking for yourself, your family or friends, having these easy recipes in your arsenal can turn making supper into a relatively stress free, relaxing experience…instead of a maddening kitchen fail.

Birthday Girl…or 40 is the new 30.

It took weeks of stealth planning…endless Facebook messaging…multiple revisions…crafty, deliberate misdirections…all in an effort to throw Rina the surprise 40th birthday party she richly deserved.  She did not make it easy.  We all knew she wanted something special to mark this milestone, but being the suspicious woman that she is, Rina kept her husband, Ken, and Laura on their toes–tossing one monkey wrench after another in their planning.  At one point, she was so worried they hadn’t come up with anything she started organizing her own birthday party!

I had it pretty easy…once Ken decided to forgo booking an event space and opted to go with a restaurant, which meant I wouldn’t be catering the party.   I knew from the beginning that I’d make her birthday cake–and that it’d have to be something that would knock her socks off.    Now, I’m not one for carving cakes into Mount Rushmore-like heads of people.  In fact, I’m generally against fashioning any body parts out of cake.  Sorry, but that’s just weird!  It’s suppose to be dessert, not an episode of Dexter.  Nevertheless, Rina and I had a running joke on Facebook about her wanting me to bake her a cake in the form of Lionel Ritchie’s head (circa 1980’s), so I deployed a bit of subterfuge by hinting to her sister Rachelle that I was thinking of doing just that…in case Rina decided to pick her sister’s brain about what we were doing for her birthday.

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Chocolate Ritchie anyone?

What I really wanted to do was create a cake that showcased both Rina’s talent as an artist and her love of classic Hollywood movies.  The perfect place to start was to pull from her extensive and prolific drawings on the subject.  Ken helped by secretly emailing me some of her movie-themed “post-it” drawings.  I gathered more from her website, Facebook, and even her postings on this blog, which I then assembled and printed out on edible ink.

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I did run into one minor glitch–the yellow ink wouldn’t flow out of the cartridge so all the images came out in shades of pink, blue and black!  Not exactly true to her original artwork, but since I was unable to unclog the cartridge, I decided to just go with it.  At least the color scheme was consistent, which created a kind of flow from her more vibrant drawings to the monochromatic ones.   Originally, I envisioned something along the lines of frames from movie strip circling the cake, but then I realized that I had far too many images (after all I was only making a relatively small two-tiered cake), so I went with the art gallery design.  Each image would be “glued” to a fondant plaque and displayed at artful intervals around the  10″ and 6″ cakes.

Thanks to Laura’s investigative skills, I found out that our birthday girl had a fondness for tiramisu.  Normally tiramisu is too delicate to be turned into a decorated cake.  However, I’ve created a version that is not only delicious but firm enough to be used in a tiered cake.  For Rina’s birthday cake, I settled on a light and fluffy vanilla chiffon cake, soaked with a rum-spiked espresso syrup and layered with a rum and marsala flavored tiramisu filling dotted with bittersweet chocolate curls, frosted in coffee Italian buttercream.

My vision for Rina’s cake didn’t end with the art gallery of her drawings.  Oh no.  I needed an extra element to send it over the top.  And that extra something came in the form of Mr. Darcy…or rather Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy (who Rina would argue was the ultimate incarnation of our beloved Jane Austen hero)…gloriously wet, rising out of a pool of chocolate on the top tier!  It seemed simple enough.  All I had to do was screen shot a stock photo Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy standing in the lake.   How hard could that be?  Well…really hard as it turns out…because the scene never actually took place.  To be exact, that particular sequence in the mini series begins with Colin diving into the lake and cuts to him drenched, walking his horse across the greens towards Pemberly!  The only image I could find of Firth’s Darcy in that scenario was of that bizarre “fan art” sculpture made in his likeness which stands in the middle of a lake in Lyme Park, England.

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Needless to say, it’s just a little too creepy.  So, I had to be creative and photoshop (with the help of my friend, Clara) the head of Colin Firth onto the body of the sculpture…then print him up on an edible frosting sheet.

Mr. Darcy and Back-up
Mr. Darcy and Back-up

I then made a hard sugar paste called pastillage, rolled it out like fondant and cut it in the outline shape of his body.  The pastillage was allowed to dry out for three days, then I attached the cut-out image of Colin onto it.  For the cake top, I piped a nice thick border of buttercream dots along the edge to hold in the “lake” of melted chocolate ganache.

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…and voilà!

After an interminably long drive through ridiculously bad downtown San Francisco traffic to Berkeley, with the cake strapped to the backseat of Laura’s Toyota, we thankfully arrived at Spenger’s with everything still intact.  Rina was indeed very surprised.

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And this is what was left…before everyone went in for seconds…and thirds.

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Mission accomplished!

Tiramisu Filling

Yield:  enough to fill one 10″ and one 6″ cake

  • 10 yolks
  • 1/4 tsp. sea or Kosher salt
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup light rum
  • 1/4 cup dry marsala
  • 12 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 5 cups heavy cream
  • 2 1/2 tsp. gelatin powder dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water

In a heat proof bowl, whisk together the yolks, salt, 1 cup sugar, and liquor until smooth.  Set the bowl over simmering bowl, whisking continuously until the mixture is very pale and thick and registers 160°F.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the softened gelatin.  Place the bowl over a larger bowl of ice and water to chill, whisking occasionally to distribute the cold.  Meanwhile, in a mixer fitted with a whip attachment whip on medium speed the mascarpone, remaining 1/3 cup sugar and 2 cups of cream until the lumps of mascarpone have been smoothed out, then lower the speed and gradually add the remaining cream.  Increase the speed to medium and whip until the mixture forms medium soft peaks.  Carefully fold chilled egg mixture into the cream.

Happy 40th Birthday Rina!

Blame It on Rio (Olympics)

I’m trying to get into the spirit of watching the Rio Olympics…really I am. I must admit, though, the opening ceremonies left me more than just a little bored–so much so that I ended up switching over to The Great British Bake-Off (hey it was the semi-finals!) about an hour into the broadcast.  Maybe it was all the commercials and endless commentaries or maybe it was the surprisingly underwhelming production values (perhaps attributable to budgetary constraints?), but I simply wasn’t feeling it.   Alas, I missed the glorious parade of nations…including the fabulously bare-chested flag bearer from Tonga, which was, according to Rina, her mom’s favorite part of the ceremony.   I’m hoping that once my favorite competitions–women’s gymnastics and swimming–are underway my enthusiasm will get reignited.  If not, I’ll have to settle for the highlights and entertain myself with movies (partially) set in Rio.  Okay, to be fair, they don’t authentically reflect Brazilian culture–strictly popcorn Hollywood fare–but engaging nevertheless.

Flying Down to Rio (1933)

No one actually flew down to Rio to make this musical and very few people remember that it was really Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond who got top billing.  What makes this otherwise lightweight musical noteworthy to film history buffs is the debut of perhaps arguably the most famous, most beloved onscreen dance pairing of all time–Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Now Voyager (1942)

Bette Davis at her melodramatic best, transforming herself from a dowdy neurotic Bostonian spinster heiress to a sophisticated, fashionable modern woman through intense therapy, who finds love on a cruise ship with a married man played by Paul Henreid. Their tentative onboard flirting culminates in a brief tryst while on a day trip through Rio de Janeiro (must have been something in air).  No film at the time did more for smoking than Now Voyager. Paul Henreid’s iconic duo cigarette lighting became symbolic of the sublimated sex act.

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Notorious (1946)

Alfred Hitchcock spins a masterful tale of romance and intrigue centered around post WWII Nazi espionage in Brazil.  To say the chemistry between Cary Grant (Devlin) and Ingrid Bergman (Alicia) was caliente would be an understatement.  Rio provided the perfect setting for their love affair to blossom.  The eroticism of their cleverly choreographed kisses, which danced around the Production Code restrictions of the time, were hands down some of the sexiest moments in film history.

Brazil (1985)

If you’re in the mood for something completely offbeat, director Terry Gilliam serves up a big heaping plate of it in his fantastical oddball story about a low level bureaucrat’s (Jonathan Pryce) search for his dream woman in a dystopian, totalitarian world driven by rampant consumerism.     It’s a film full of Gilliam’s trademark Monty Pythonish dark humor and imaginatively elaborate sets. Who knew how prophetic his vision really was in light of the recent controversies involving the IOC?

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

What was it about 1985?  Here’s another film with dark political underpinnings centered on a riveting story about two prisoners in a Brazilian jail, involving political intrigue, espionage, sexual identity, love, and the power of storytelling.

Fast Five (2011)

If you’re just looking for some mindless fun, then Fast Five, the fifth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, might be right up your alley. It’s an adrenaline rush of wildly preposterous car chases and high octane fight scenes set against the backdrop of modern Rio de Janeiro.

Whether you’re watching the Olympics or just a movie (sort of) set in Rio, you can always use some refreshments and snacks–two of the most characteristically Brazilian being the Caipirinha and Pao de Queijo (cheese bread).  I added whole frozen blackberries and fresh mint to my Caipirinha, topping it off with a little soda water for a refreshing twist on a Brazilian classic.

Blackberry Caipirinha

  • 2 oz. Cachaca
  • 2 tsp. turbinado or raw sugar
  • 1/2 lime, quartered
  • 3-4 fresh or frozen blackberries
  • 2 sprigs fresh mint
  • chilled soda water

Place the sugar, lime pieces and one sprig of mint at bottom of a highball glass and muddle together to release the essential oils.  Add the Cachaca along with 4-5 ice cubes and the blackberries.  Top off with soda water and garnish with the remaining mint sprig.

I would describe the Pao de Queijo or “cheese bread”  as a cross between the cheesy French gougere and a popover on the outside, with the chewiness of mochi on the inside.  It’s made with tapioca flour so it’s gluten-free.  To jazz it up a bit, I seasoned the batter with a tiny sprinkling of garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, and ground black pepper.

Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

Yield:  1 dozen

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup oil (e.g. canola, light olive, grapeseed)
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups tapioca flour (aka starch)
  • 1/4 tsp. sea or kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a blender, process the egg, oil, and milk to combine.  Whisk together the dry ingredients then process into the wet ingredients until smooth.  Add the cheeses and pulse just to combine.  Pour the batter evenly amongst twelve well-greased muffin molds.  Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 22-25 mins. until the cheese breads are golden brown and puffy.  Cool in the tins for few minutes before unmolding.

 

 

 

 

 

Cheers to the Boy Who Lived (On)

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I may have been sitting in a movie theater waiting for Star Trek Beyond to start, but secretly I was counting down the hours until the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the long-awaited (and according to J.K. Rowling) final Potter story.  Like millions of other Potter devotees, I want to know what happens after Harry, Hermione, and Ron wave goodbye to their progeny on Platform 9 3/4 as the Hogwarts Express whisks them off to the magical school.

Since I highly doubt I’ll be jetting off to London anytime soon to catch the London production, I’ll just have to settle for reading the play, which was magically delivered to my Kindle before midnight.   It’s an epic tale, and not unlike the Deathly Hallows, the story has been split into two parts–lucky theatre goers signing on for a double-header.  Now some diehard fans can probably plow through the entire thing in one sitting.  I, on the other hand, need sustenance…and I don’t mean snack food.  So, with this in mind, I came up with a Potteresque menu to carry me through the marathon reading.

To start things off, I thought it would be appropriate to honor the grown up Harry Potter with an adult version of his favorite childhood beverage, butter beer.  Harry’s Grown-Up Butter Beer is a sweet, creamy concoction made with homemade cream soda, dark rum, and Tuaca liqueur, topped off with homemade butterscotch whipped cream and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce.

On a recent trip to London, my friend Karen took her kids to the Warner Bros. Harry Potter exhibit, where they tried the “official” version of butter beer–a drink so painfully sweet that they were inspired to come up with their own less sweet version when they got home.  In my adult version, I decided to up the game by making a vanilla bean-infused caramel syrup as the base for my cream soda, which along with the Tuaca and dark rum amplifies the butterscotch notes.  I used the soda siphon to blend these flavors together.  For the butterscotch whipped cream, I whisked about 1/4 cup brown sugar and 2 tsp. vanilla extract into 1/2 cup warm heavy cream until the sugar dissolved, then chilled it completely before adding it 1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream.  The mixture was place into a whipped cream canister injected with NO².  The drizzle of salted caramel sauce over the butterscotch cream takes it over the top.

Harry’s Grown Up Butter Beer

  • 2 oz. Vanilla Caramel Syrup*
  • 1 oz. Dark Rum
  • 1 oz. Tuaca
  • 4 oz. Cold Soda Water
  • 2 oz. Butterscotch Whipped Cream (or a big dollop)
  • Salted Caramel Sauce

*To make the vanilla caramel syrup, combine 1 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water and cook to a medium amber.  Carefully pour in 1 1/2 cups water and add 2 vanilla pods, split and scraped.  Boil the mixture on medium heat for about 4-5 mins. or until the caramel is completely liquified.  Remove from the heat and pour into a mason jar or other heat proof container.

In the play, Harry and the gang are all working parents (save Draco Malfoy perhaps), so I imagine, even with the aid of magic, whipping up an easy family meal can still be a challenge.  My Bang Up Bangers & Mash Pie, a mash up of two classic British comfort foods, and Plum-Cherry Crisp are thoroughly satisfying do-ahead dishes you can pop in the oven and savor at your leisure.

Bang Up Bangers & Mash Pie

  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled, cut into large chunks
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 2/3 cup half & half, warmed
  • 1 package British bangers (about 6 links), cut into thick slices
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 5-6 large button mushrooms, 1/2’d and sliced
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. butter or rendered bacon fat
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup Guinness or dark beer
  • 2 cups beef stock/broth
  • 1 Tsbp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp. grated white cheddar or parmesan cheese

Place a film of plastic wrap over the bowl of mashed potatoes to keep them warm while you prepare the filling.

Once assembled,  you can either bake it off at 350°F for 25 mins. (or until the top is golden and gravy is bubbling) or cover it with foil, put it in the refrigerator, and bake it the next day for 40-45 mins.

Plum-Cherry Crisp

  • 3 medium plums, pitted and sliced
  • 1 cup pitted dark cherries, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch of sea or Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 4 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • pinch of sea or Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground cardamom

Toss together the first 6 ingredients and transfer into a greased oven-proof dish.  Combine the flour, sugar, salt, oats, and spices in a separate bowl, then drizzle in the melted butter.  Mix together with your hands to form the crumble topping, then distribute it evenly over the fruit.  Bake the crisp at 350°F for about 35-40 mins. or until the top is golden brown and the juices are thickened.    Serve warm with whipped cream.

 

In the Cocktail Hour

It’s not often I spend an entire afternoon playing with cocktails (and still remain sober enough to write a post about it), but that’s what I’ve done.  I assure you it’s all for a worthy cause.  A good friend of mine asked if I would be interested in testing out a few products she’s been trying to market. Free gadgets to play with in the kitchen?  I’m in!  Like a kid in a candy store I got to choose the style and color of each item to be tested.  The first item on the roster, a perky purple soda siphon.

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I’ve been obsessed lately with making my own flavored sodas so this was right up my alley.  The thing I noticed first about the soda siphon was that it seemed to keep the water carbonated longer than the soda maker I currently own. Once you inject the CO² cartridge into the ice cold water (this is the key to proper carbonation), you can dispense as much or as little soda as you want without releasing any of the gases and causing the rest of the soda to lose carbonation.  It’s perfect for topping off mixed drinks because the dispenser releases the soda with just enough pressure to force it into the drink, essentially “mixing” it.  Once I got the soda siphon set up, I went to town!

Putting the soda syphon through its paces was a great excuse for me to experiment with my latest Farmer’s Market find–cherry juice extract. It is weird that the first thing I thought of to do with this was to make cocktails??  I doubt it’s what the vendor had in mind…although, you never know.

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Intense in flavor, the syrupy consistency belies it’s tartness–a little goes a long way.

For my first cherry-themed cocktail, which I’m calling Into the (Cherry) Woods, I mixed the cherry juice extract with bourbon, amaretto, orange bitters, lemon juice and a little syrup simple (to offset the acidity), then topped it off with soda.  Almonds and cherries are a classic flavor combination, and the bourbon adds a smokey dark, almost woodsy note to the pairing.  Orange bitters ties all the components together.

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Into the (Cherry) Woods

  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • 1 oz. amaretto liqueur
  • 1/2 oz. cherry juice extract
  • 3-4 dashes orange bitters
  • 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz. simple syrup
  • 3-4oz. chilled soda or seltzer water
  • mint for garnish

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes and shake vigorously to blend.  Strain mixture into a glass over ice, then top off with soda water and garnish with fresh mint sprig.

Now you know I can’t pass up an opportunity to throw in a movie clip.

So to keep the Brit vibe going, my second offering is a yet another riff on the quintessentially English Pimm’s Cup, which I’m calling….wait for it…Cherriots of Fire!  Okay, Rina actually came up with this one.  Instead of just mixing together lemon-lime soda and Pimm’s No. 1, I’ve upped the flavor (and booze) factor by adding gin, cherry juice extract, and fresh lime syrup, topping off with soda water.  It’s as refreshing on a hot summer day as a brisk race along the water’s edge.

Cherriots of Fire

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 1/2 oz. Pimm’s No. 1
  • 1/2 oz. cherry juice extract
  • 1/2 oz. lime syrup*
  • 3 oz. chilled soda water
  • cucumber strips, mint, maraschino cherry for garnish

Combine the gin, Pimm’s, cherry juice extract and lime syrup in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes, then shake vigorously to blend.  Strain into a glass over ice, then top with soda.  Nestled cucumber strips along the inside of the glass, then garnish with mint sprig and cherry on top.

*for lime syrup, bring to a simmer 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 water, then stir in the juice of 1 lime.  Cool completely before using.

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In honor of “National Tequila Day,” the next cocktail is a scintillating variation on the Tequila Sunrise, which I’m dubbing Tequila Sunset (Under the Cherry Moon).  Like how I managed to get two movie references in there?  I’ve used fresh-squeezed orange juice and substituted cherry juice extract for the grenadine, and added orange liqueur, lime juice, and agave syrup.  If you like your cocktail strong, leave out the soda water.  Either way, it’s a sexy cocktail…just like Prince.

Tequila Sunset (Under the Cherry Moon)

  • 4 oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 1/2 oz. tequila reposado
  • 1/2 oz. orange liqueur (e.g. Triple Sec)
  • 1/2 oz. cherry juice extract
  • 1/2 oz. agave syrup
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • chilled soda, optional
  • corkscrew of orange peel for garnish

Combine the orange juice, tequila, 3/4 of the cherry juice extract, agave, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes and shake vigorously to blend.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, then slowly pour in the remaining cherry juice extract.  Top off with a little soda water and garnish with orange peel.

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My second offering in honor of National Tequila Day, is a spin on the popular Silver Paloma, traditionally made with sliver tequila and grapefruit juice.  I’m calling my version a Ruby Paloma.  This time instead of cherry juice extract I used Campari, which is the ideal compliment to grapefruit.  Like the cherry, it gives the drink a deeper blush of pink, while the tequila reposado imparts complexity and intensity of flavor.  Finished with chilled soda, this is one cocktail you’ll want to have in your arsenal of summer drinks.

Ruby Paloma

  • 4 oz. fresh squeezed ruby grapefruit juice
  • 2 oz. tequila reposado
  • 1/2 oz. Campari
  • 1/2 oz. agave syrup
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • 3-4oz. chilled soda
  • mint and lime slice for garnish

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes and shake vigorously to blend.  Strain into a glass over ice and top off with soda.  Garnish with mint sprig and slice of lime.